Theme 3 - Summary

Sophie Barat and Césaire Mathieu (1796-1875)

In 1839 the Society of the Sacred Heart had been in existence since 1800. It had expanded rapidly and needed new structures to meet the growing needs of an international community. Differences arose within the Society concerning French dominance in the Society and the growing strength of other national influences in Europe and in Louisiana. These issues, which were essentially a crisis of growth,  had begun to surface in the Society from 1833, between the influence of Rome and of Paris, Rome representing internationality and Paris representing French influence.  These divisions in the Society became public when the General Council of 1839, held in Rome, proposed that the superior general, Sophie Barat, should reside in Rome, thereby making Rome the centre of the Society, not Paris.  This decision was rejected outright by Eugénie de Gramont in the rue de Varenne in Paris along with some of the French communities, by the archbishops of Paris, Mgr. de Quelen and Mgr. Affre, and by the French government.  

Between 1839-1843 Sophie Barat found herself prisoner within these two polarities. Her leadership was tested. She became the focus of criticism within and without the Society, concerning how she exercised her public role and office.  Her judgements, choices and relationships were questioned, and many of her mistakes and errors were laid bare. Most of all, the survival of the Society of the Sacred Heart was placed at risk.  Sophie's leadership was further undermined when her four assistants general felt in conscience they could not continue to support her. With tensions growing ever more complicated by the day, Sophie Barat felt her health could not sustain such relentless stress. Either death would release her, or she must resign from her role as superior general.

These crucial issues in the Society came to ahead when Sophie Barat was still struggling inwardly, still trapped in doubts and scruples. Even with the help of Joseph-Marie Favre she had not been able to reach out and fully place all her trust in the love of the Heart of Christ.  Joseph-Marie had told her that when she could do so she would truly be the founder and leader of the Society of the Sacred Heart. By the strange designs of Providence during these years Sophie found the courage to take that momentous step. She made a journey in a way she could never have imagined. She fell into an abyss and when she emerged from it she realised that she had crossed over a desert, that she had indeed entered a new world. This transition was signalled in 1843 when she was asked to forgive from her heart, in the measure of Christ. It was her Paschal Mystery. She was accompanied on this journey from 1842 by her old friend, Césaire Mathieu, the archbishop of Besançon.  


Allow me in sharing your cross to experience also something of its weight. Simon of Cyrene was glad to have something himself to suffer when he helped our divine Master on the way to Calvary. I can only be hopeful for your congregation. The present storm shows you what success means, and that of the Society is compromising its very existence. But in my opinion Providence is teaching you a lesson in humility. For that reason you must accept and carry this cross with great calm, great gentleness, in reverent silence and perfect trust.

      Césaire Mathieu to Sophie Barat,  Paris, 8 October 1842.

Can you understand such assistants general? And what am I to do with such mentalities?  It is so true that it only takes one with the capacity and even the virtue to upset all. Before Madame Galitzine was on the Council the greatest harmony existed. Under pretext of her attachment to Rome she has egged the others on. And Fr Rozaven, who has such influence over the cardinal protector and leads him like a tame dog, is himself led by Madame Galitzine. Everyone knows that he has a weakness for her. This is nub of my changed situation.

              Sophie Barat to Césaire Mathieu,  Paris, 17 November 1842.

What a life I lead, my last days full of wrangling and quarrels! It would be unbearable if I did not remind myself that it is God's will!  Then there is so much to make amends for! So I will resign myself and I will work as much as my strength allows me.

               Sophie Barat to Césaire Mathieu,  Paris, 19 November 1842.

I have hardly any time for prayer during the day. I have to do it at night and I am worn out with fatigue and sleepiness. I believe the good God is punishing me for having abandoned my first call which was to Carmel. Can the cross of Jesus, the sufferings and humiliations I endure make amends for this?  I have a lot of worries about so many of my failings and my natural reactions mixed up at this time of trial. Pray then that I obtain from the Sacred Heart of Jesus a merciful pardon of which I have so great a need!

                            Sophie Barat to Césaire Mathieu, Paris, 2 December 1842

For several years now I have been walking on a bed of thorns and my plans have had no success.


                         Sophie Barat to Césaire Mathieu, Paris, 5 December 1842

The more complicated the situation becomes outside, the more you need to proceed with simplicity. Accept the information which is given you, but do not let it into the depths of your heart.


                        Césaire Mathieu to Sophie Barat, Besançon, 21 December 1842.

My heart swims in sorrow. What a responsibility if I am the author of so many evils! After Jesus, you are my only support.

              Sophie Barat to Césaire Mathieu, Paris, 27 December 1842.

There is a very appropriate word in Scripture which will comfort you: It says that giving alms is prayer. And how could the cross you bear not be a source of prayer, since Our Lord prayed on the cross for us! So then it is not necessary that you pray during the day, for you have not got the time; nor is it necessary that you, worn out with fatigue, prolong your vigils into the night. That would put you in danger of not having the strength necessary during the day. But hold fast to the cross in surrender and love, let it pray for you. This thought, which is very gentle and very true, will set your heart at ease.

                   Césaire Mathieu to Sophie Barat, Besançon, 6 December 1842.

If I could give you the details of their procedures [assistants general] I think you would advise me to maintain a bit of dignity still. They doubted my faith, my allegiance to the Holy See and insinuated this to others, without asking me for a word of explanation. It seems to me that it would be somewhat difficult for me to write to them now, apologise and show them trust. I will certainly take advantage of all the overtures they make to me, to show them good will, understanding and even that the past is forgotten. But to write to them first, I do not think so!


                   Sophie Barat to Césaire Mathieu, Paris, 15 February 1843

In a serious case such as yours, when human prudence is stretched to the limits, it is clear that you must act in the noblest manner possible and that what looks like folly in human eyes is wisdom in the sight of God. The most difficult task you have in your position now is to reconcile minds and hearts, which have been so deeply alienated from one another. To achieve this you must do two things, one concerns yourself while the other involves the government of the Society.

In what regards yourself, now you must be gentler, more humble, more loving, and more patient, in the measure that others are less. You will achieve nothing by dominance, but a great deal by being affable. That is what I mean by the letters I advised you write. But it is not my intention that you should apologise. It is only that you speak kindly and gently as if you had nothing against them in your heart. Then do you not see that if you have to go farther towards them, you have to do it for the sake of Jesus Christ who is always the first to come to us despite our faults? As for the other matter which concerns the government of the Society: in as much as being gentle and kind towards all, so you must also act firmly and with authority in the fullest sense. To achieve this you must not compromise your freedom or your affection with anyone. You must open your arms to all in the love of Our Lord and nothing else.



             Césaire Mathieu to Sophie Barat, Rome, 17 February 1843.

Process for reflection on the inner life of Sophie Barat, 1839-1843

Theme 3

Read the Summary and the Texts which accompany this theme


As you reflect on the life of Sophie Barat from 1839-1843 reflect also on your personal biography, on the elements which have formed you at each stage of your life.  This personal reflection will enable you to accompany and to understand Sophie as she makes her journey.

Pointers which could help your reflection.

Sophie Barat was 60 in 1839. In the light of your experience how do you see Sophie Barat at this stage in her life?  

Think of the times of crisis in your life. What happened to you then? What effects did the events have on you?   How do events in your own life help you understand the experiences of Sophie Barat from 1839-1843?

The turning point in Sophie Barat's life came when Césaire Mathieu suggested in 1843 that she forgive, and 'speak kindly and gently, as if you had nothing against them in your heart'.

Have you had the experience of trying to act 'as if you had nothing against them in your heart'?  Can you talk to Sophie about what this meant in her life?

Further reading:  Madeleine Sophie Barat. A Life; The Society of the Sacred Heart in 19th century France



In the evening time, take time to speak with Sophie Barat about your life and your concerns at this time; about her life and her experience. Bring this reflection into sleep. In the night hours while we are asleep the spiritual world is open and present to us. Sophie Barat belongs to that reality. As a transformed being, she is alive, active and ready to help us.

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Madeleine Author - Phil Kilroy

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